Enterprise storage has always been one of the more esoteric, expensive and essential parts of corporate IT. As a result, storage expertise confers high status upon its practitioners — some of whom are understandably put out now their mysteries are being packaged and flogged to a consumer audience. When the major announcement at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a home server, and networked terabyte drive systems are being prepared for the living room, enterprise storage runs the risk of becoming just another business technology languishing in the shadow of its big retail brother.
Take heart. Enterprise IT is getting the best deal of the lot. Consumer demand is pushing an enormous increase in storage capability while simultaneously shrinking the price, but the hidden costs have yet to be counted. One manufacturer of precision specialist parts for the hard drive industry told ZDNet UK that after the last round of margin slashing demanded by the big-name client, "we might as well have burned a big bag of £5 notes in the car park as take the deal". The work went overseas, and the cost-cutting clients lost 30 years of expertise in the process.
We'll have to wait and see how compatible that process is with ever-increasing demands on reliability and capacity: Seagate's recent move to offer a five-year warranty on its consumer products can be seen as a vote of confidence, or an attempt to offset misgivings in the knowledge that today's terabyte titan is 2012's antique.
Whatever, the smart enterprise planner will take advantage of the cutting consumer edge in two ways. If there are problems in production, reliability or fitness for use, they'll show up here first, as any technology that's not up to the job will be shaken out in public. The stuff that survives is then exactly what's required, and enterprises get the cherry-picked products that guarantee cost reduction and tested reliability at an acceptable capacity.
Who knows. With home systems consuming data at an ever-increasing rate, one day we might see consumer-level ease of use making its way into storage management systems. We may never see a server farm as simple to control as an iPod — some elite skills will always remain to set the experts apart — but anything that lets us concentrate on productivity rather than just making things work will be music to our ears.